The Feedback Sandwich that Subway will never, ever sell!

Picture the scene, it’s 1981 and I’m in the middle of a 6-week management-training programme as part of my new role as Branch Manager for Argos. At just 21, I’m their youngest ever! All management training takes place in Edgware, N. London (if you’ve read my other blog posts you’ll know this story doesn’t end well!)

One of the very few areas of ‘people management’ training we were given was the approved, tried and tested Argos model for giving feedback. AKA the feedback sandwich. Or to give it it’s more Infamous Monika ‘The B*ll-sh*t Sandwich”. My apologies if you’re reading this during your lunch break or having your eleven-ses!

We’ll explore why and how it earned that illustrious epithet later in this blog…

Now, before we go any further with this – let’s acknowledge that this was the early 1980s and things weren’t quite as sophisticated as they are today! There was no internet or free Wi-Fi, how did we survive as a species?! The art of people management wasn’t as fully embraced back then, more a case of ‘JFDI’.

Here at Corporate Drama we’re often asked, as professional business role-players, to allow our clients to practice the art of delivering high-quality feedback. Maybe you’d be surprised, or maybe not, at the number of times when we’re running a feedback master-classes and we ask for currently used and proven feedback models that ‘the good old feedback sandwich’ comes out as an example of effective feedback delivery. There’s definitely life in the crusty old roll yet!

So why is it called the ‘B/S’ Sandwich?

It’s all a case of our ‘human doings’ preferences for ‘primacy and recency’ in other words – the first thing we hear and the last thing we hear. Scientists have conducted research on primacy and recency effects using a list of 20 words, which they ask students to memorise. The words, which were recalled most reliably and often, were the first and last ones.

Apply this to our feedback sandwich and you can start to see where there might be problems in what is remembered from our feedback conversation! Let’s try an example:

Alex, the manager is meeting with Paul his direct report.

Alex:     “Thanks for coming to see me Paul, I need to give you some feedback on the customer you’ve just helped”

Paul:     “OK”

Alex:     “Great, now I just want to say that I think you do a great job here and that on the whole I’m really pleased with your work”

Paul:     “Great, thanks”

Alex:     “Yes, we’re really pleased, there’s just one thing which I noticed today you did when speaking to that customer. You have a habit of speaking over the customer when they are trying to explain their problem to you. I’d like you to be more aware of that moving forward and try not to do it, OK?

Paul:     “Sure, OK no problem, I think I can remember doing that a couple of times – thanks Alex”

Alex:     “That’s great Paul, like I said, we really value you here and the way you just muck-in and help everyone is really appreciated, so keep up the good work OK?”

Paul:     “Sure thing! Thanks Boss!”

If we apply the ‘primacy and recency effect’ to this example the likelihood is Paul will remember the first and last feedback given to him: ‘I’m really valued here and I’m a team player, Alex thinks I’m great.’

That would be a problem as that isn’t the message Alex wanted Paul to take from their meeting!

The feedback sandwich is also regarded as an ‘old school management cliché’ and as such it’s completely lost its performance management impact. It’s so well-known that team-members often predict what’s being said ‘OK, here it comes, all the nice fluffy stuff to make me feel good…!’

Better to have an open and honest conversation with your team-members. To be seen as ‘Tough on the facts; Open-minded on the reasons’.

We like the simplicity of the EEC feedback model:

E: Evidence – what happened, the information does the person need to connect to the facts

E: Effect – what was the impact of the ‘first E’ e.g. what has been/was the impact

C: Change or Continue – motivational feedback or developmental feedback

Then it’s down to using another key management skill, listening!

We’ll have a blog on that very soon.

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